“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” -Matthew 5:17
Shortly after Jesus preached the beatitudes to his disciples on the mountainside, he sternly warned them not to believe He came to abolish the Law or the prophets. First, he prefaces his statement by saying, “Do not think.” This presumption of warning indicates there may have already been false rumors circulating that Jesus was going to change the Law and the Prophets.
Why do you think this may be the case? I think it’s because Jesus spoke out against the establishment. He told the Pharisees they were a brood of vipers. He condemned religious leaders who didn’t take care of the widows and orphans—being hearers of the word but not doers. He spoke out against hypocrisy in the synagogues. For these reasons, people might have assumed that Jesus was anti-religious and would create a “new way” of following God.
However, this is not the case. Jesus went to the synagogue every Sabbath. He was a devout Jew. He loved the Torah and quoted Scripture often. Even in the beatitudes, he refers to Psalm 37:11 concerning how the meek or humble will inherit the earth. It’s very important to distinguish between the Law of God and the Prophets versus religious tradition. In fact, the reason Jesus spoke out against the Pharisees is because of His zeal for the Law and love for the proper way of interpreting Torah.
As I said before, the reason Jesus spoke so harshly against the religious establishment is because He loved the Law of God. He didn’t want the synagogue and religious acts of worshipping God to be replaced as a place for profit. That’s why he drove the moneychangers from the Temple. The House of God is to be honored and revered, not used for political, social, and especially religious gain.
Jesus further solidifies that He did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets when he made this critical statement next: “For I tell you truly, until heaven and earth pass away, not a single jot, not a stroke of a pen, will disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished (Matt 5:18).”
Has heaven and earth passed away? I don’t think so. Does this mean that the Law is still relevant today? Absolutely. The Psalmist states, “The Law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul (Ps. 19).” The Law is what condemns us and leads us to the mercy seat of grace found in our Savior Jesus Christ. The Law will always serve a purpose contrary to what theologians might say today.
Does the Law save us? No. For by grace we are saved through faith in Jesus. Did the Law ever save? No, it always pointed us to a Redeemer who would impute or give righteousness to the people of God. For Jesus is the ultimate Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. The day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, could never erase sin. It was a foreshadow of when God’s Son would take on human flesh and die for the sins of the world.
Law and grace are not mutually exclusive. Law and gospel are not antagonistic. Rather, law, grace, faith, and the gospel are cohesive elements that lay the foundation for the Judeo-Christian worldview. Jesus told us that if we love God, we will obey His commands. Therefore, I demonstrate my love for the gospel and grace found in Jesus by my repentance and obedience—knowing full well my salvation is exclusively in the work of Christ.
In today’s church, there are two extremes. One says, “You are free in Christ.” You are not saved by the law or by doing good deeds. You can do whatever you want. If someone tries to tell you to follow the law, just tell them they are being a legalist.
The other extreme says, “You are not free in Christ.” You must do more than just believe in Jesus for salvation. You must follow the entire Law. You are required to do good works if you want to have a chance of going to heaven today. Yes, Jesus died for you, but you also need to do additional works to make your salvation in Jesus fully secure.
Both views completely miss the mark. Here is the solution: Salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus. When we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us of all our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Our righteousness does not come from within. Our good works don’t add any merit to our salvation. Our only hope is in Jesus, who lived a perfect life for us and took the penalty from the Father that we rightfully deserve as lawbreakers.
Moreover, the apostle Paul told us, “Shall we continue in sin so that grace may abound? God forbid.” In other words, Paul is saying that while the good news is our salvation is a free gift that is not earned, it also should not be used as a license to sin. Also, here’s the thing: While the gospel is free—it requires all of our devotion.
The greatest command is to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. If we aren’t pursuing that, then the apostle James might say to you: “Faith without works is useless.” He might also add: “What good is, my brothers and sisters, if someone says he has faith but not good deeds. Can that faith save him?” I think we all know the answer to this question. Blessings!
Article written by Chad A. Damitz (M.Div)